IN DEPTH Five Kachin par­ties to com­pete against USDP proxy in elec­tions

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Yola Ver­bruggen

An in­ter­est­ing po­lit­i­cal battle is loom­ing in Kachin State, where six eth­ni­cally based par­ties have reg­is­tered for the gen­eral elec­tion due to take place later this year.

They in­clude the Unity and Democ­racy Party of Kachin State – a proxy of the rul­ing Union Sol­i­dar­ity and Devel­op­ment Party – which was the only Kachin party to re­ceive per­mis­sion from the Union Elec­tion Com­mis­sion to com­pete in the gen­eral elec­tion in 2010.

Many res­i­dents of Kachin are hop­ing the newly-formed par­ties will en­sure they have bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion af­ter this year's elec­tion, although there is con­cern that too many par­ties might be detri­men­tal to their cause.

“Hav­ing more small Kachin par­ties is not good for us. Now we al­ready have six, in­stead of one large party that would be much stronger in the elec­tions,” said Maran Ja Seng Hkawng, daugh­ter of Maran Brang Seng, who chaired the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Or­gan­i­sa­tion un­til his death in 1995.

Sip­ping tea on a cold win­ter morn­ing in the Kachin cap­i­tal, My­itky­ina, the im­mac­u­lately-dressed Maran Ja Seng Hkawng gave no in­di­ca­tion of the many hard years she has spent in the jun­gle. For nearly 25 years, she lived and worked with the Kachin Women As­so­ci­a­tion in moun­tain ar­eas un­der the con­trol of the KIO.

“I had a chance to learn from my fa­ther; he re­alised since the 1970s that we could not solve the prob­lem within our mil­i­taries,” she said. “We can­not con­quer the mil­i­tary but at the same time the Tat­madaw can­not root up all the eth­nic con­flict.”

For the 2010 elec­tion, the KIO lead­er­ship sup­ported the for­ma­tion of a sin­gle Kachin party. Sev­eral of its se­nior lead­ers were given per­mis­sion to re­sign and formed the Kachin State Pro­gres­sive Party. The Union Elec­tion Com­mis­sion re­fused to reg­is­ter the party, which was likely to have at­tracted sup­port from vot­ers in the state.

Some of the party's mem­bers then de­cided to con­test the elec­tion as in­di­vid­u­als, but were not al­lowed to com­pete.

Even­tu­ally, only the Unity and Democ­racy Party of Kachin State took part in the elec­tions. Its MPs have spo­ken out for the Kachin peo­ple. They in­clude UDPKS Pyithu Hlut­taw MP Doi Bu, who has called for the re­peal of a clause in the Un­law­ful As­so­ci­a­tions Act be­cause it made con­tact with mem­bers of the KIO an of­fence.

The close re­la­tion­ship be­tween the USDP and its Kachin proxy is ob­vi­ous in Nay Pyi Taw.

“Mem­bers of par­lia­ment from the USDP and eth­nic aligned par­ties, like the UDPKS, live in the guest­house of the rul­ing Union Sol­i­dar­ity and Devel­op­ment Party lo­cated be­hind its party head­quar­ters [in the cap­i­tal]”, said an in­ter­na­tional devel­op­ment worker and close ob­server of par­lia­ment. “All other MPs live in the bare mu­nic­i­pal guest­houses,” he said.

The con­flict in Kachin State and the dis­trust of most Kachin to­wards the Tat­madaw and the USDP is likely to gen­er­ate strong sup­port for the new par­ties in the elec­tion. Many Kachin have lost faith that ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the KIO and the gov­ern­ment will pro­duce so­lu­tions for end­ing the con­flict.

“I'm cer­tain this sit­u­a­tion will re­main the same for a long time to come and it will be im­pos­si­ble for us to go back home,” said a mother of eight who lives in Mai Na IDP camp near My­itky­ina.” “We may con­tinue fight­ing and kill the sol­diers around here but it is not them who are in charge, it's the peo­ple from the cen­tre.”

A 17-year cease­fire be­tween the Tat­madaw and Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army col­lapsed in 2011 less than three months af­ter the Pres­i­dent U Thein Sein's nom­i­nally civil­ian gov­ern­ment took power from the mil­i­tary. Fight­ing since then has dis­placed more than 120,000 vil­lag-

ers in Kachin and north­ern Shan State.

Peace hopes plum­meted last Novem­ber af­ter the Tat­madaw shelled the KIA's of­fi­cer train­ing academy at Laiza, killing 23 cadets, of whom four were Kachin and the rest from other armed eth­nic groups. Fight­ing ear­lier this month at Hpakant, a cen­tre of the lu­cra­tive jade min­ing trade, trapped hun­dreds of civil­ians was among the heav­i­est since hos­til­i­ties re­sumed in June 2011 when the Tat­madaw at­tacked a KIO out­post.

The KIO says it is pre­pared to con­tinue talks with the gov­ern­ment aimed at end­ing the fight­ing in the state, in which con­trol over nat­u­ral re­sources, es­pe­cially tim­ber and jade, is the main source of con­flict.

“Ne­go­ti­a­tion is the only way out of Myan­mar's po­lit­i­cal cri­sis. Trust is not there now, but it must be the out­come of the talks,” KIO spokesper­son Dau Kha said in the af­ter­math of the shelling in­ci­dent. “The Tat­madaw must eventu- ally con­fess their wrong­do­ings and the eth­nic peo­ples must get their po­lit­i­cal rights,” he said.

Maran Ja Seng Hkawng said in­ter­na­tional sup­port for the peace process has em­bold­ened the Tat­madaw.

“The mil­i­tary feel very con­fi­dent now be­cause most coun­tries sup­port them in the peace process. But all they do is go around to meet eth­nic peo­ple, shake hands and take pho­tos,” she said.

“We have to pres­sure them from any pos­si­ble way, also through par­lia­ment,” she added.

The other par­ties apart from the Unity and Democ­racy Party of Kachin State that have been reg­is­tered by the UEC for the elec­tion this year are the Kachin State Demo­cratic Party, Kachin Demo­cratic Party, Kachin Na­tional Democ­racy Congress Party and Lisu Na­tional Devel­op­ment Party. The Na­tional Demo­cratic Force also con­tests elec­tions in Kachin State.

USDP mem­bers cam­paign­ing in the run-up to the 2010 elec­tions. Photo: Thet Htoo/EPA

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